Trai explores tariff regulation options in DTH sector

Written by Corporate Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 9 2009, 05:35am hrs
Following the Punjab and Haryana high courts order and the requests of DTH operators, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has started talks on the need and dynamics of tariff regulation in the DTH sector. It has also sought views on issues related to providing value-added services (movie-on-demand, pay-per-view), interactive services like active learning and active stories and providing radio channels on DTH platform.

The regulator has invited comments from the stakeholders on whether there is a need for fixing a tariff and whether tariff should be regulated only between broadcasters and DTH players or should also consider how DTH players charge the consumers. Trai has not issued any formal tariff order for DTH services till now. However, it had earlier held that the broadcasters will carry their channels to the DTH operators at 50% of the rates at which they offer the same to the non-CAS cable TV platform. In a recent consultation paper floated by Trai, it has once again sought comments on the relationship between price points that broadcasters offer their channels to analogue and digital mode distributors of content. Trai also wants to explore whether the prices that DTH operators charge their consumers can be fixed only in terms of maximum retail price and whether the prices at which broadcasters charge their channels or bouquet to DTH operators should have any connection with what DTH operators charge their consumers.

Trai already determines the ceiling prices of pay channels for cable operators in CAS areas. The regulator is now exploring whether this rate chart can also serve as a rate chart for the DTH operators. Additionally, it is also analysing whether DTH operators should be mandated to provide a basic package of free to air channels, offer pay channels on a-la-carte (individual, not bouquet) basis to the subscribers and provide option of renting out set-top boxes to subscribers, like cable operators are obliged to. The DTH players have no such obligations so far.

Trai has also sought views on whether carriage fees should come under regulation and a ceiling on the same should be prescribed. Carriage fees are charges that DTH operators and other distributors of content, charge from the broadcasters to carry their channels vis--vis other channels, in the face of limited bandwidth at their disposal. The previous such calls by Trai to regulate carriage fees had met stiff resistance from distributors.

On value added and interactive services like active learning, Trai has sought to know whether they should be treated as independent broadcast channels. However, according to existing rules, no DTH service provider can beam channels or include television broadcast which has not been registered by the government for being viewed within the territory of India. Calling them broadcast channels will make their status illegal unless a special provision is carved out for them. The regulator is also looking at whether DTH operators should be allowed to advertise exclusively on their platform and whether they should be allowed to carry radio, including paid services like satellite radio.